Former Illinois Mayor Gets Year for Taking Insurance Business Payoffs

February 1, 2010

The 81-year-old former mayor of Niles, Ill., was sentenced to a year and a day in federal prison for taking thousands of dollars in exchange for steering businesses to a friend’s insurance agency.

Nicholas Blase, who was mayor for 47 years, could have gotten more than five years in prison after pleading guilty to mail fraud and dodging taxes, but he will only have to serve about 10 months with time off for good behavior.

“I don’t want Nick Blase to die in prison,” U.S. District Judge Wayne R. Andersen said. Blase has been in frail health lately and his doctor wouldn’t offer assurances he would survive even two years in prison, Andersen said.

The courtroom was packed with friends and well wishers as Blase admitted in a husky voice that he had himself to blame for being headed for prison at an advanced age.

“I took money I had no business taking,” Blase said. “I knew I had no business taking it as I did.” He said he was “undone by my own greed.”

Blase had admitted using the power of the mayor’s office for years to steer business to a friend’s insurance agency and that thousands of dollars were funneled to him through a dummy company in return.

Some Niles residents referred to the shell company as “Mayor Blase’s insurance agency,” according to prosecutors, who had asked Andersen to impose a 41- to 51-month sentence.

“We did so because of the serious nature of the crime and the message that we hoped a jail sentence would send to current or future elected officials that they not use their public office for private gain,” Assistant U.S. Attorney Daniel Collins, the lead prosecutor, said after the sentencing.

Still, Collins said he didn’t “think there’s going to be any effort at appeal.”

Defense attorney Sheldon Zenner told Anderson there was ample evidence Blase had done many good deeds over the years and had done everything he could to right the wrongs he committed.

He said Blase will be sending $250,000 each to three different Niles-area school districts in the coming week.

“For an 81-year-old man as humiliated and beaten as this process has caused him to be, does putting him in jail do anyone any good?” Zenner asked.

Andersen said he had spoken with Blase’s doctor and none of the health problems are the kind “that would make you run over to the hospital.” He added the doctor had been treating Blase for 45 years and held him “in high esteem.” But he said it would be a mistake not to consider his age and medical condition.

Andersen also said prison time was essential as a deterrent to others. But he said a long prison term would merely be a waste of taxpayers’ money when Blase could be back in the community helping others as he has in the past.

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